Opening for Chantel McGregor were Birmingham riff-based melodic blues rockers Blue Nation. For those unfamiliar, they are a classic Blues Edged Power Trio in the style of Cream et al.
KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 4 May 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: Andy Shaw
At this point, I feel I must forewarn you that while they are excellent musicians, prepare yourselves for plentiful tales and inter-song craic. This elevates them to the status of genuine entertainers, and one cannot fail to fall for the charm of these most genial Brummies.
Anyway, onwards and upwards. They took the bold step of “Hitting you with a brand new number. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with it – we don’t know it either.” That remark sure broke the ice and set the tone for the rest of their set. Hand Me Down was the number in question, and it was immediately apparent just how much Neil’s voice had matured.
“Those that have seen us before, the fact that you’ve come back fills me with hope”. Good Times exemplifies their signature sound. Neil’s impassioned vocal and meaty riffs, together with Luke’s rolling bass, produce a monster sound. Imagine if Cream had morphed into Bad Company.
Chronicling a tale of academic success, “A National Record of Achievement was given to secondary school pupils in the ’90s and early 2000s detailing academic and non-academic achievements, Luke’s Citizenship tutor remarked. I would have loved to have commented on Luke, but unfortunately, I have never met him.
You’re like Ginger Baker in an Orange Kaftan, and you’re onstage with a Paul Weller lookalike – You’re doing well, my son.” Such tales of juvenile truancy preceded She’s a Storm with the almost Beatles vs Zeppelin refrain of the title itself.
“Am I too loud?” Neil asks the soundman. “Make the most of that, my mate. You’ll never hear a guitarist asking you that again”. Come Back Home possessed some delicious vocal and musical harmonies together with intricate bass work and lay firmly at the heavier end of the blues rock spectrum.
“It’s just been announced that we are returning to the Netherlands to support Laurence Jones. We have three days off in the middle – that could go so many ways.” Stay clear of museums, boys! All led into new single Strangers. Imagine, if you will, a cranked-up ’80s-era Clapton. That’s what we had here. “If you’ve never been to one of the shows, they’re all like this,” as if any further explanation was required.
A more serious tone ensued as bassist Luke detailed the song’s inspiration. “This is about grief, something that we will all suffer from at some point.” Reinforcing the point that the biggest killer of men within a specific age range is suicide. “We’ve got to change this. It’s OK not to be OK”, led into the very melodic Echoes, which has a chorus I can just see instigating a mass mobiles in the air moment in a larger venue. To assist in some small way, “We have a bucket at the merch, and all the monies raised will be donated to The Samaritans. Since we have been doing this, we have generated over £1,500.” A most noble gesture indeed.
“We never let Luke speak during any Radio or TV interviews. We did once (In the Netherlands again – I see a pattern here!) where we spoke for 1 ½ Hours but could not remember a single word we said. Needless to say, it wasn’t aired.” Down By The River has a very ‘Suvvern’ intro until the humungous riff of the chorus comes blasting in. A good singalong segment to conclude all too brief a set.
It has been a joy to observe their development, from the first encounter, which incidentally was at the opening night of this very venue, right up to the present day. In that period, their songwriting has become much more refined, and Neil’s voice has developed so much grit, not to mention power within the middle and lower registers, something he later explained had been helped considerably by performing numerous Lockdown Sessions.
If you think that I have given away many of their lines, then fear ye not. Next time round, it will all be different, and goodness knows what they will come out with.
A consummate performance of crunching blues-inspired rock so gloriously maintaining the traditions of the colossuses of the Sixties and Seventies while simultaneously engaging with the audience on an unsurpassed level. The perfect warm-up and a very highly recommended watch.